Thursday, 05 July 2018 13:40

Conquering Cancer




SARATOGA SPRINGS — Richard Smith’s battle with kidney cancer began in 2012 and thanks to a combination of drugs called Opdivo and Yervoy, he’s around to tell the tale. 

Smith has lived in the Capital Region for 30 years, and moved to Saratoga Springs in 2012. He works as an engineer at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory.

“My story is a real roller coaster ride. It all started in December of 2012 when I noticed blood in my urine. I scheduled a visit with my general practitioner for two days later. But a day later I felt a sharp pain like kidney stones and decided to go to the hospital where doctors found a tumor the size of a tennis ball in my left kidney. I had clear cell renal cell carcinoma, kidney cancer. Making a bad day even worse I was also told I had high blood pressure and high blood sugar. A week later I had surgery at Saratoga Hospital to remove the kidney and I was told the cancer had not spread and I was deemed cancer free,” Smith said.

“It’s at this point I knew I had to regain control of my life so I lost over 50 pounds and began working out regularly at the gym and rediscovered my childhood love of bicycle riding,” he added.

However in 2015, Smith noticed a lump in his collarbone; the biopsy showed it was the same kidney cancer as before but now advanced stage spread to his lymph node. After the lymph node was removed, scans again showed that he was cancer free. Only three months later, after a CT, Smith was told he had five more tumors in lymph nodes in his upper body.

“While the first diagnosis in 2012 was scary, I moved so fast to remove the kidney my family  and I didn’t have time to internalize the “C” word. The re-occurrence in February of 2015 was devastating and emotionally felt much worse than the first tumor for me and my family, especially my son. Survival rates, from my internet searches, for Stage 4 Kidney Cancer were even more depressing, in the teens or even single digits,” Smith said.

Smith’s wife, having been from the Boston area knew that the Dana Farber Cancer Institute was the best in the country for treatment. This is where the healing part of their journey began. 

“I signed up for the CheckMate-214 trial for what is called immune system therapy or immunotherapy. Immunotherapy effectively teaches my own immune system to recognize and attack the cancers. The trial was for the combination of Opdivo + Yervoy, drugs produced by Bristol-Meyers Squibb,” Smith said.

Even though Smith was an excellent candidate for this clinical trial, it did not necessarily mean he would receive the alleged cancer-curing drug. 

“It was a blind trial, so I did not know at the time I signed up what I would get. But since the trail was not “double blind” I would know what I was getting because the control arm of the trial would be the standard of care at the time, which is a pill taken orally, while the immunotherapy is an infusion. I was lucky enough to randomize to the immunotherapy arm,” Smith said. 

For the past three years Smith has to Boston every two weeks for an infusion. Within six months of starting the immunotherapy, all five tumors were gone and he was told he had complete response (CR) or complete remission. 

“It is almost two -and-a-half-years since fist being told I was CR and my recent scan (late May) still shows that I am cancer free. The trial lasts for another two years,” Smith said. 

“Once I am finished with my trial, I hope to volunteer periodically at Dana Farber. My gift for gab, and personal experience may give me the opportunity to just meet and talk to people and their caregivers. Last, I hope my story being told just gives people hope that there are so many exciting new treatments and trials underway and the progress being made in cancer research is growing exponentially!”

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